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From Comic Relief to Pain Relief: Actor/comedian Jerry Lewis to visit Detroit to talk about winning 37-year battle with chronic pain

January 10, 2003

DETROIT - January 10, 2003 - Along with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis skyrocketed to fame in the '40s and '50s doing a comedy act that could be found on television, radio and the recording studio. Throughout Mr. Lewis's career he often performed physical comedy, including pratfalls. In 1965, one of those falls chipped his spine, and Mr. Lewis lived with chronic back pain for 37 years. So severe was his pain that at one point he could not sleep more than a few hours at a time or walk more than a few steps. He even contemplated suicide.

Today, though, Mr. Lewis' chronic back pain is a thing of the past thanks to a neurostimulator. Neurostimulation involves the implantation of a small device, similar to a heart pacemaker, under the skin to send mild electrical impulses to the spinal cord. Those electrical impulses block pain signals as they travel to the brain. Now, instead of pain, Mr. Lewis says he feels a tingling sensation, but more importantly, he is able to live an active and full life once again.

To raise awareness of the issue of chronic pain and the treatment options now available, Mr. Lewis will talking about his experiences with chronic pain and neurostimulation Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 1 p.m. at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. The talk will be held at the school's Scott Hall at 540 E. Canfield in the Jaffar lecture hall (third floor, room 3356). Mr. Lewis will be addressing faculty and staff at the School of Medicine involved in pain management as well as medical students.

Defined as pain that recurs or persists for more than six months, chronic pain affects approximately 70 million Americans, or about one in four people in the United States, according to the National Pain Foundation. To put the problem into perspective, chronic pain results in 40 million doctor visits, 515 million lost workdays, and $100 billion in medical expenses each year. And it remains under-treated, even though an array of treatment options exists.

Although Mr. Lewis never stopped working, his work became difficult. In recent years, he took pain medication throughout the day and was forced to reduce his hours. Difficulty walking limited his performances. A husband and father, Mr. Lewis is able to enjoy life again. He has increased energy and is able to move quickly. He maintains a full schedule and is currently working on several films and comedy shows in addition to writing a memoir about his years with Dean Martin.

With more than 1,000 medical students, WSU is among the nation's largest medical schools. Together with its clinical partner, the Wayne State University Physician Group, the school is a leader in patient care and medical research in a number of areas, including cancer, genetics, neuroscience and women's and children's health.